Downtown BIZ, among others, has brought in a consultant to advise them on how best to bring retailers to the downtown. In his early observations, Michael Berne of MJB Consulting identified four challenges: (From Free Press):
- There are four main retail clusters competing for business, i.e. downtown is too big;
- Panhandlers are bad for business;
- The skywalk hurts street-level business; and,
- Not enough people live downtown.
Numbers 1 and 3 are the same thing, really: too much space to be filled by retailers. Moreover, 1 and 3 are relative to population density, point 4. As for point 2, it too is related to density as more people on the street means more of a sense of safety. So, I would summarize the challenges as:
- Not enough people living downtown.
Density is something that Winnipeg does not do well, despite a climate that should require it. Such is the product of cheap oil and poor public transportation. Will developers now recognize that demand for downtown living is going to go up? Or will they continue to see record new house prices as incentive to keep building more sprawl.
What we need from our province and city – if they want to get serious about downtown, carbon emissions, public transportation, etc… – is a tax incentive system that taxes sprawl and funds infill. Once we have people, we can have all the downtown retailers we can shake a stick at.